The Golden West Boys
INJUN AND WHITEY TO THE RESCUE
WILLIAM S. HART
Author of Injun and Whitey and Injun and Whitey Strike Out for Themselves, etc.
Illustrated by Harold Cue
Grosset & Dunlap Publishers New York Made in the United States of America Copyright, 1922, by William S. Hart All Rights Reserved Printed In The U.S.A.
In the Boys' Golden West Series I have done my best to present to its readers the West that I knew as a boy.
Frontier days were made up of many different kinds of humans. There were men who were muddy-bellied coyotes, so low that they hugged the ground like a snake. There were girls whose cheeks were so toughened by shame as to be hardly knowable from squaws. There were stoic Indians with red-raw, liquor-dilated eyes, peaceable and just when sober, boastful and intolerant when drunk. And then there were those White Men, those moulders, those makers of the great, big open-hearted West, that had not yet been denatured by nesters and wire fences, men to whom a Colt gun was the court of last appeal and who did not carry a warrant in their pockets until it was worn out, men who faced staggering odds and danger single-handed and alone, men who created and worked out and made an Ideal Civilization,—a country where doors were left unlocked at night and the windows of the mind were always open,—men who were always kind to the weak and unprotected, even if they did have hoofs and horns, men like William B. (Bat) Masterson and Wyatt Earp. They and their kind made the frontier, that Great West which we can now look back upon as the most romantic era of our American History.
I love it; I love all that was ever connected with it; and to all those who are in sympathy with my crude efforts to set forth what little I know, to each and every boy who feels a choke in his throat when he reads the closing lines of "In Memory," I say, I have a choke in my throat too, and I am silently clutching your hand, for that red boy has crossed the Big Divide and gone to the Happy Hunting Grounds and the white boy is saying Farewell.
I. An Arrival 1
II. A Surprise 13
III. Mystery 26
IV. Solution 39
V. Bunk-House Talk 51
VI. Boots 66
VII. Education and Other Things 77
VIII. Injun Talks 87
IX. Fish-Hooks and Hooky 115
X. A Hard Job 129
XI. The T Up and Down 139
XII. Felix the Faithless 150
XIII. A Fool's Errand 160
XIV. The Stampede 170
XV. The Cattle-Sheep War 185
XVI. "Medicine" 206
XVII. "The Pride of the West" 218
XVIII. Wonders 229
XIX. Threshing-Time 235
XX. The Story of the Custer Fight 247
XXI. Unrest 263
XXII. The New Order 271
XXIII. Pioneer Days 290
XXIV. "In Memory" 299
They couldn't shoot him—he was going too fast Frontispiece
In Front of Them Stood Sitting Bull 16
Advancing into the Road with both Front Paws Extended 120
The Man's Figure disappeared through the Opening, the Bucket falling from his Hands 202
INJUN AND WHITEY TO THE RESCUE
There was no doubt that affairs were rather dull on the Bar O Ranch; at least they seemed so to "Whitey," otherwise Alan Sherwood. Since he and his pal, "Injun," had had the adventures incidental to the finding of the gold in the mountains, there had been nothing doing. So life seemed tame to Whitey, to whom so many exciting things had happened since he had come West that he now had a taste for excitement.
It was Saturday, so there were no lessons, and it was a relief to be free from the teachings of John Big Moose, the educated Dakota, who acted as tutor for Injun and Whitey. Not that John was impatient with his pupils. He was too patient, if anything, his own boyhood not being so far behind him that he had forgotten that outdoors, in the Golden West, is apt to prove more interesting to fifteen-year-old youth than printed books—especially when one half the class is of Indian blood.
As Whitey stood near the bunk house and thought of these things, his eye was attracted by a speck moving toward him across the prairie. He watched it with the interest one might have in a ship at sea; as one watches in a place in which few moving things are seen. The speck was small, and was coming toward Whitey slowly.
From around the corner of the bunk house Injun approached. It will be remembered by those who have read of Injun that he was very fond of pink pajamas. As garments, pink pajamas seemed to Injun to be the real thing. It had been hard to convince him that they were not proper for everyday wear, but when he was half convinced of this fact, he had done the next best thing, and taken to a very pink shirt. This, tucked in a large pair of men's trousers, below which were beaded moccasins, was Injun's costume, which he wore with quiet dignity.
"What do you s'pose that is?" asked Whitey, pointing at the speck.
"Dog," Injun answered briefly.
"A dog!" cried Whitey, who, though he had never ceased to wonder at Injun's keenness of sight, was inclined to question it now. "What can a dog be doing out there?"
"Dunno," Injun replied. "Him dog." Injun's education had not as yet sunk in deep enough to affect his speech.
Whitey again turned his eyes toward the object, which certainly was moving slowly, as though tired, and, as the boys watched, sure enough, began to resolve itself into the shape of a dog. Here at last was something happening to break the dullness of the day. A strange dog twenty-five miles from any place in which a dog would naturally be.
Furthermore, when the animal was near enough to be seen distinctly, he furnished another surprise. He was entirely unlike any of the dogs of that neighborhood—the hounds, collies, or terriers. He was white, short, chunky. His head was very large for his size, his jaw undershot, his mouth enormous, and his lower lip drooped carelessly over a couple of fangs on each side. Under small ears his eyes popped almost out of his head, and his snub nose could scarcely be said to be a nose at all. From a wide chest his body narrowed until it joined a short, twisted tail, and his front legs were bowed, as though he had been in the habit of riding a horse all his life.
Injun gazed at this strange being with something as near surprise as he ever allowed himself. "Him look like frog," he declared.
"Why, it's a bulldog, an English bulldog!" exclaimed Whitey, who had seen many of this breed in the East.
"More like bullfrog," Injun maintained solemnly. "What him do—eat bulls?"
The brute's appearance surely was forbidding enough, and if Injun had been subject to fear, which he wasn't, he would have felt it now. He did not know, as many better informed people do not, that beneath this breed's fierce appearance lies the deepest of dog love for a master—and that's a pretty deep love—and that no other "friend of man" holds gentler, kinder feeling for the human race than this queerly shaped animal. And this in spite of the fact that he owes the very queerness of his appearance to man, who has had him bred in that shape, through countless generations, to the end that the poor, faithful beast may do brutal deeds in the bull ring and the dog pit.
Whitey did not know all this—that the wide jaws were designed for a grip on the enemy, the snub nose to permit breathing while that grip was held, the widespread legs to secure a firm ground hold; in short, that he was looking at an animal built for conflict, which had the courage of a lion where his enemies were concerned, and the love of a wild thing for its young where its human friends were concerned.
But Whitey knew the latter part of it—that bulldogs were friendly, and usually misunderstood, and he proceeded to let Injun in on his knowledge. "You needn't be afraid of him," he said.
"No 'fraid, but no go too close," replied the cautious Injun.
Now that this dog was in reach of humans he sat down, opened his cave-like mouth, allowing a few inches of tongue to loll out, panted, and looked amiably at the boys. He certainly was tired.
"He's not only tired, he's thirsty," said Whitey, and ran to the stable for water.
And while he was gone the bulldog and Injun looked at each other—Injun with his bronze skin, his long, straight hair, his calm face, and his steady, dark eyes. This descendant of thousands of fighting men regarded that descendant of thousands of fighting dogs. And what they thought of each other the dog couldn't tell, and Injun didn't, but ever after they were friends.
Presently Whitey returned from the stable with a pan of water, and with Bill Jordan, foreman of the Bar O, Charlie Bassett, Buck Higgins, and Shorty Palmer, all the cowpunchers who happened to be on the place. They all knew bulldogs, and they regarded the newcomer with awe and respect.
Whitey put the water before the dog, who, after favoring him with a grateful glance and a quiver of his stub tail, went to it.
"He's sure awful dry," Bill said. "Ought t' take him up to Moose Lake. Looks like that pan o' water won't even moisten him."
"Where d'ye reck'n he come from?" asked Shorty.
"Mebbe he was follerin' a wagon, an' got lost," Buck Higgins suggested hopefully.
"Wagon nothin'!" snorted Bill. "Nobody in these parts'd have a dog like that, an' if they did, what would he be doin' follerin' a wagon? He ain't built to run, he's built to fight."
Where the dog had come from was something of a mystery. Neighbors were not near by, in those days, in Montana, the nearest being fourteen miles off, and the railway twenty-two, and nothing there but a water tank. There was some discussion regarding the matter which ended in a deadlock. It was certain that none of the ranchmen in the vicinity owned such a dog, and even so, or if a visitor owned him, how would he get to the Bar O? Walk, with "them legs"?
While the discussion went on, the subject of it gulped down large chunks of beef which Whitey had begged from the cook, and after that he went with the men and boys to the ranch house, where, with an apologetic leer, and a wiggle of his tail, he stretched himself on the veranda, and fell into a deep sleep. He was very grateful, but he was also very tired.
In a lonely ranch house matters are of concern which would create little comment in a city. This dog's coming was in the nature of an event at the Bar O. Bill, the foreman, and all the punchers were ready to neglect work for a considerable time and talk about it. Even Injun occasionally looked interested. But all the talk could not solve the problem of the animal's presence.
The only one who knew lay sleeping on the veranda and couldn't tell. It isn't likely that he dreamed, but if he did it might have been of being tied to the handle of a trunk in an overland limited baggage car; of the train's stopping for water at a lonely tank; of the earthy, wholesome country smell that came through the door, left open for coolness.
There had been a stirring in the grass near the track. A glimpse of an animal that looked something like a fox and something like a wolf, and wasn't either one, a wild animal that was sneaking around the train for the odd bits of food that were sometimes left in its wake. As the pungent scent of this beast reached the bulldog's snub nose, the leash that held him to the trunk became a thing of little worth. With a violent lurch he broke it, leaped from the door, landed sprawling alongside the track, and was off in pursuit of the strange animal.
Now, any one who knows how a bulldog is built and how a coyote is built can imagine how much chance the first has to catch the second. The dog followed by sight, not by scent. With his head held as high as his short neck would allow he dashed on. The coyote didn't bother very much. After getting a good start he doubled on his tracks for a little way, turned aside, and sat down. And if he wasn't too mean to laugh, he may at least have smiled as his enemy rushed forward toward nowhere.
Then that bulldog ran and ran until he couldn't run any more. Then he walked till he couldn't walk any farther. Then he slept all night, while other coyotes howled dismally near by. And in the morning he started off again, thinking he was going toward the train and his sorrowful master, really going in the opposite direction. But there was one thing that man hadn't taught him to do in all the years, and that was to quit, so he kept on. And at last, as any one will who keeps going long enough, he had to arrive somewhere and he reached the Bar O Ranch.
So you and I and the dog know how he got there, but Bill Jordan, the punchers, and the boys didn't, and presently they gave up trying to figure it out.
"'Tain't likely his owner'll show up, so he's ours," said Bill Jordan.
"He's Whitey's," Buck Higgins maintained. "He saw him first."
This law was older than any ranch house, or any cowpuncher, so it held good, and Whitey became the proud owner of the dog. The matter of his name came next in importance. Of course he had one, and he was awakened, and asked to respond to as many dog names as the party could think of. These were many, running from Towser to Nero, but they brought no response from the sleepy animal.
"Must be somep'n unusual," Buck Higgins decided, and he ventured on "Alphonse" and "Julius Caesar," but they didn't fit.
"Well, we jest nachally got t' give him a name," said Shorty Palmer.
Again the list was gone over, but nothing seemed quite right. "Oughta be somep'n' 'propriate," said Bill Jordan. "How 'bout Moses? He was lost in th' wilderness."
"Wilderness nothin'!" objected Buck. "In the bullrushes. Them ain't prairie grass."
"Besides," said Whitey, "he ought to have a fighting name. Napoleon!"
As he seemed to have no choice in naming his own dog, Whitey turned in despair to Injun, who had stood solemnly by. "How about you?" Whitey asked. "Haven't you a name to suggest?"
The dog knew that he was the subject of the talk, and possibly felt that he ought to keep awake, for he sat on the veranda and blinked at the humans. Injun gazed at him stolidly.
"Huh!" he grunted. "Sittin' Bull."
"Great!" cried all the others.
This matter settled, the men went away. Sitting Bull stretched himself out on the veranda and again fell asleep, and Whitey told Injun that the dog's coming probably was a good omen. That there ought to be something doing on the ranch now.
It was early morning, and the Bar O Ranch slept, heedless of the keen late-autumn air that had in it just a faint, brisk hint of the fall frosts to come. Whitey came out of the ranch house and moved toward the stable. Sitting Bull trudged after him.
The dog was entirely rested, having slept the better part of two days and nights. He seemed to know that Whitey was his new owner. Dogs have an instinct for that sort of thing. And though Bull was civil and friendly enough with every one else on the ranch, he took to Whitey by selection.
At six o'clock each night Bull sat near the ranch-house front door as though waiting for some one. He waited a long time. Bill Jordan, who prided himself on what he knew about dogs, and men, said that Bull's former owner probably was a city man, and was in the habit of coming home at six; that the dog was waiting for him to appear. Be that as it may, in the days to come Bull gave up this custom. No one knew what he felt about the loss of his old master. He became a Montana dog. The city was to know him no more.
Now he waddled along after Whitey, who was making for a straw stack, near the stable. Among the field mice, gophers, rabbits, and such that thought this stack was a pretty nice place to hang around, were two hens that were of the same opinion. At least they made their nests in the stack and laid their eggs there. And they were the only hens that the Bar O boasted, for hens were scarce in Montana in those days—as Buck said, "almost as scarce as hen's teeth, an' every one knows there ain't no such thing."
It was Whitey's particular business to gather the eggs of those hens, which they saw fit to lay early in the morning. So Whitey came to the stack early, to be ahead of any weasels or ferrets, who had an uncommon fondness for eggs. This morning as he moved around the stack he didn't find any eggs, but he saw something black and pointed sticking out of the straw. Whitey took hold of the object and pulled, and the thing lengthened out in his hands.
And right there a sort of shivery feeling attacked Whitey's spine and moved up until it reached his hair, which straightway began to stand on end, for the object was a boot and in it was a man's leg. The boot came, followed by the leg, followed by a man. From what might be called the twin straw beds, another man emerged. Both sat upright in the straw and rubbed their eyes. Whitey didn't wait to see if any more were coming, or even to think of where he was going. He fled.
Instinct took him toward the ranch house, and good fortune brought Bill Jordan out of the door at the same moment.
"Bill!" yelled Whitey, "there's two men in the straw stack!"
Bill did not appear unduly excited. "They ain't eatin' the straw, are they?" he inquired.
"No, but they look awfully tough, and they nearly gave me heart-disease," Whitey panted.
"If tough-lookin' folks could give me heart-disease, I'd of bin dead long ago," Bill responded. "Let's go an' size 'em up."
Bill strolled to the stack with Whitey. The two men, now thoroughly awake, were still sitting upright in the straw. In front of them stood Sitting Bull. His lower jaw was sticking out farther than usual, and he was watching the men and awaiting events.
"Hey! Call off yer dog, will ye?" requested one of the men.
"He ain't mine," Bill answered calmly, indicating Whitey. "He's his."
"Well, get him to call him off," said the man. "Every time we move he makes a noise like sudden death."
Whitey summoned Bull, who came to him obediently enough, and the men rose to their feet, and stretched themselves and brushed off some of the straw that clung to their not over-neat attire. They were not as bad-looking as they might have been, neither were they as good-looking. One was tall and slim and wore a dark beard. The other was almost as tall, but, being very fat, did not look his height. He was clean-shaven, or would have been had it not been for about three days' stubbly growth. Their clothes were well-worn, and they wore no collars, but their boots were good.
"What you fellers doin' here?" demanded Bill. "Ain't the bunk house good enough for you?"
"We got in late, an' ev'body was in bed," said the taller of the two. "We're walkin' through for th' thrashin'."
"Well, yer late for that too," said Bill.
The threshing in the early days of Montana was an affair in which many people of all sorts took part, as will be seen later. Bill questioned the men, and their story was brought out. It seemed that they had come from Billings, in search of work at threshing. The taller, thin one was named Hank, but was usually called "String Beans," on account of his scissors-like appearance. He had formerly been a cowpuncher. The other had been a waiter, until he got too fat, then he had become a cook. Originally named Albert, after he had waited in a restaurant for a while he had been dubbed "Ham And," which, you may know, is a short way of ordering ham and eggs. And this name in time was reduced to "Ham."
Bill Jordan did not seem to take the men seriously. Their names may have had something to do with his attitude, and the early West was not over-suspicious, anyway. It had been said that "out here we take every man to be honest, until he is proven to be a thief, and in the East they take every man to be a thief, until he is proven to be honest." You can believe that or not, as you happen to live in the West or in the East. Besides, Bill could make use of the talents of String Beans and Ham. He needed "hands" to work on the ranch.
When Whitey found that his supposed tragedy was turning into a comedy, he felt rather bad about it, especially as Bill was inclined to guy him.
"Lucky you didn't shoot up them two fellers what's named after food," Bill said, when the strangers had retired to the bunk house. "Or knock 'em out with some of them upper-cuts you're so handy in passin' 'round." For a boy, Whitey was an expert boxer.
"What was I to think, finding them that way?" Whitey retorted. "And they don't look very good to me yet."
"Clothin' is only skin deep," said Bill.
Whitey felt called on to justify his alarm. "It's not only their clothes," he said, "but their looks. You noticed that Bull didn't like them, and you know dogs have true instinct about judging people."
"Let me tell you somethin' about dogs," began Bill, who usually was willing to tell Whitey, or anybody else, something about anything. "Dogs is supposed to be democratic, but they ain't. They don't like shabby men. I'm purty fond of dogs, but they got one fault—they're snobs. They don't like shabby men," Bill repeated for emphasis.
As Whitey thought of this he remembered that the dogs he had known had this failing, if it was a failing. He also tried to think of some reason for it, so he could prove that Bill was wrong, but he couldn't. That is, he couldn't think of anything until Bill had gone away and it was too late. Then it occurred to him that it was only the dogs that belonged to the well-dressed that disliked the poorly dressed. That a shabby man's dog loved him just as well as though he wore purple and fine linen, whatever that was. Whitey looked around for Bill to confound him with this truth, but Bill had disappeared—a way he had of doing the moment he got the better of an argument.
If the two men were aching to work, they had not long to suffer; Bill Jordan soon found occupation for them. Slim, the negro cook, had been taken with a "misery" in his side, and Ham was installed in his place. And to do Ham justice he was not such a bad cook. The ranch hands allowed that he couldn't have been worse than Slim, anyway. String Beans did not make so much of a hit as a cowpuncher. Bill watched some of his efforts, and said that though he was a bad puncher he was a good liar for saying he'd ever seen a cow before. So String Beans was sent to the mine to work.
This quartz mine, up in the mountains, was the one near which Injun and Whitey had had so many exciting adventures. Now they owned an interest in it, as has been told, though Mr. Sherwood and a tribe of Dakota Indians were the principal shareholders. During the summer the mine had been undergoing development, and the first shipment of ore was soon to be made.
With String Beans working at the mine, and Ham improving the men's digestion as a cook, it began to look as though Whitey's idea that they were desperate characters was ill-founded. In fact, the thought had almost passed from his mind, and was quite forgotten on a certain Saturday. On that day Injun and Whitey were free from the teachings of John Big Moose, and were out on the plains for antelope. They didn't get an antelope, didn't even see one. All they got were appetites; though Whitey's appetite came without calling, as it were, and always excited the admiration of Bill Jordan. After dinner that evening Whitey went to the bunk house. Some of the cowpunchers were in from the range, and Whitey loved to hear the yarns they would spin.
So he lay in a bunk and listened to a number of stories, and wondered if they were all true—and it is a singular fact that some of them were. But Whitey's day's hunt had been long, and his dinner had been big, and his eyes began to droop.
Buck Higgins was in the midst of a tale about being thrown from his cayuse and breaking his right arm. There was a wild stallion in this story, which every puncher in seven states or so had tried to capture. Now, Buck, with his right arm broken, naturally had to throw his rope with his left, and his manner of doing that took some description. It was during this that in Whitey's mind he, in a mysterious way, changed to Buck, or rather Buck changed to Whitey, and the stallion changed to an antelope, and pretty soon things began to get rather vague generally.
When Whitey awoke, the bunk house was almost dark. How long he had been lying asleep he did not know. The light came from a candle, and presently Whitey heard voices. Three men were seated near by, and Whitey was about to get out of the bunk, when he recognized the voice of String Beans, and something held him back. It was evident that the men did not know that he was there.
Whitey felt something warm stir against him, and, startled, put out his hand and encountered a hairy surface. It was Sitting Bull, who had crawled into the bunk after Whitey had fallen asleep, and crowded in between the boy and the wall. At the sound of String Beans' voice Whitey felt the hair along Bull's neck rise. He remembered the dog's dislike for the two men, and put his hand over Bull's mouth to keep him from growling. Whitey was glad he did not snore. He might now have a chance to learn whether the two were on the level or not.
For the moment Whitey had some qualms about listening, but he soon dismissed them. If these men were open and aboveboard, why were they whispering in the dimly lighted bunk house? Whitey had never been able to overcome the first distrust he had felt for String Beans and Ham. He also had a feeling that he ought to justify that distrust, that in a way it was up to him. So he continued to eavesdrop.
String's tones were low, and did not come to Whitey distinctly. This was unfortunate in one way, but fortunate in another, for had the men been nearer they probably would have seen the boy. Soon another voice broke in, and Whitey knew it as that of "Whiff" Gates, a puncher who was a constant smoker. Then came another voice, that of Ham And.
Whiff Gates did not bear a good reputation, and it was only because of the scarcity of help that Bill Jordan kept him on. As Whitey reflected on this, and the "birds of a feather flock together" idea, he kept very still. His patience was soon rewarded, for as the men grew more earnest in their talk, their tones became louder, though Whitey could not hear as distinctly as he would have liked.
However, he gathered that String had returned from the mine on account of an injury to his foot, caused by a piece of rock falling on it. That there had been some excitement at the mine, owing to a "bug hole" being discovered. Whitey learned afterwards this was a sort of pocket caused by the dripping of water, and containing a small but very rich quantity of ore. Whitey also heard something about a certain date, on which the three were to be at a certain place, but here, to his disgust, the voices were again lowered, as if in caution.
On the whole, though this secret meeting seemed suspicious, the boy did not learn enough to form a basis for action. Presently the men went away, and after waiting until he considered it safe, Whitey left the bunk house, followed by the faithful Bull. Whitey decided not to tell Bill Jordan what he had heard. Bill probably would only poke fun at him and hand him one of those arguments he couldn't answer.
But the next day he took Injun into his confidence. Injun had no use for String and Ham, and furthermore was a person who could keep a secret. And here was something for the boys to keep to themselves—a mystery,—something to be solved. They would lie low and await events. It made them feel quite important.
Awaiting events did not seem a very thrilling occupation. Of course, there was always John Big Moose's tutoring to fill in the gaps, but that was less thrilling than just waiting, if possible. The teaching took place in the big living-room of the ranch house, a room with a great stone fireplace, the stone for which had been carted down from the mountains; with walls decorated with Indian trophies—tomahawks, bows and arrows, stone pipes and hatchets, knives—and with beadwork, snowshoes, and many other interesting things. All these were enough to take a fellow's mind off his lessons, and besides there was the floor, with its bear and moose and panther skins, each with its history.
And outside, viewed through the big windows, was the rolling prairie, with the touch of early fall on it, sometimes revealed in a light curtain of haze, at which a fellow could gaze and imagine he saw the squaws of the savage tribes gathering the maize for the coming winter's store, while the braves rode off to hunt the buffalo.
Yes, it was rather distracting, but John Big Moose was very patient about the lessons, though he had been eager for knowledge himself. He had worked his way through a Western college, spurred on by the hope of bettering his people, the Dakotas, and he had bettered them. And when Mr. Sherwood, Whitey's father, had gone East, with the understanding that John was to tutor Whitey and Injun, John had resolved to do his best.
But this other Injun, Whitey's pal, was not what you might call eager for knowledge. Reading and writing were all right, and might be put to some practical use, but arithmetic seemed rather useless, and when it came to the "higher branches," geometry and trigonometry, they loomed up to Injun like a bugbear of the future. In his heart Injun pined for his truly loved field of study—the great outdoors.
But presently there came a slight break in the dull routine of words and figures—a half-holiday. The first shipment of ore was to be made from the mine. John Big Moose represented his tribe's interest in this mine, and he was to go and inspect operations. The ore was to come down from the mountain in sacks, loaded on horse and muleback, and to be delivered to the railroad at the Junction, a small settlement about twenty miles south of the ranch.
The boys thought that as they were stock-holders in the mine, they ought to go along and attend to this matter, too, but John couldn't see it that way. He compromised on a half-holiday for them; study in the morning, freedom in the afternoon. So that morning they stuck to their lessons. With John there to oversee them they might neglect their studies. With him away, and the boys placed on their honor, the thing wasn't to be thought of.
And here it might be repeated that Injun had a very strong sense of honor. He had faults, as most of us have, but breaking promises, or what he considered as promises, was not among them.
So that afternoon, as Injun and Whitey could not be with the shipment of ore, they did the next best thing. They rode off into the foothills. And on a grassy hill that commanded a widespread view of the plains, they looked far off over the prairie. And winding across it, clear off near the horizon, they saw tiny specks which represented mules and horses, laden with the sacks of precious ore, and its escort of cowpunchers.
That evening it was lonely at the ranch, Bill Jordan and the other men being at the Junction. String Beans nursed his sore foot, and Ham prepared dinner, which Injun had with Whitey in the ranch house. Time passed and still the men did not return. Evidently they were celebrating the shipment of the mine's first output, or waiting to see it put safely aboard the train at the Junction. So Whitey invited Injun to spend the night, and he accepted willingly, as it gave him a chance to wear the pink pajamas that he loved.
Yawning time had come and passed. Whitey was sleeping soundly and dreamlessly, when he was aroused by a grip on his arm. It was Injun in his pink pajamas.
"Some one come," he said.
"Mebbe it's Bill and the others," Whitey ventured.
"Not Bill—only one man," Injun replied.
The coming of a man didn't seem important to Whitey, but he knew Injun must have had something on his mind, or he wouldn't have waked him, and he waited for his friend to speak more of the words of which he was so sparing. The next speech was not long.
"Look," said Injun, and he went to the window.
Whitey went and looked. There was a faint light in the bunk house, and another down by the horse corral. As the boys watched, a man came out of the bunk house, and even in the dim light Whitey recognized him. He was String Beans.
"Why," whispered Whitey, "I thought he was lame. He doesn't even limp."
"Him get well," Injun replied.
The light at the corral moved toward and joined that at the bunk house, and the two revealed a man leading three horses.
"It's Whiff!" gasped Whitey. "I thought he was with the men at the Junction."
"Him get back," Injun grunted, with meaning.
Absorbed in the scene being enacted before them, the boys watched in silence.
Bill Jordan had said that Injun slept with his mind open; that most Injuns did; that if they hadn't done that all these years there wouldn't be no Injuns—and no doubt Bill was right. But any way you thought about it, it was remarkable that the slight sound outside—the thudding of a horse's hoofs on soft ground, or the letting down of the bars of the corral—should have wakened Injun. It probably was not the sound so much as the sense of something unusual, something threatening. Furthermore, Injun had a different way of figuring things from Whitey. Also he had been awake longer, so his mind had a better start, not being bewildered by sleep.
"They're up to something," said Whitey.
"Um," grunted Injun.
The two men went into the bunk house and soon came out with another man who was fat. It undoubtedly was Ham. Each man carried a saddle, which he put on a horse. Then they mounted and rode away.
A cloud moved away, like a curtain, and a full moon shed its light over the scene and into the window. The hour must have been late, for the moon was low. Whitey turned and looked at Injun, who was stolidly watching the riders disappear.
"Can you beat that?" Whitey demanded. "String Beans walked as well as any one. I'll bet he wasn't hurt at the mine at all. That he was just pretending."
"Uh," muttered Injun.
"Mebbe they've stolen something," continued Whitey.
"No, no come into the house, me hear 'em," said Injun. "In bunk house nothin' to steal."
Suddenly Whitey thought of the negro cook, the only other man on the place, and demanded, "Where's Slim?"
"Dunno," said Injun, and followed Whitey, who shoved his feet into a pair of slippers and ran hastily from the room.
The bunk house was dark, the men having put out their lanterns before they rode away. Whitey groped for matches and, finding one, lighted a lamp. Slim was nowhere to be seen. Whitey looked at Injun in wonder and alarm. Injun looked at Whitey with no expression of any kind.
"Mebbe they've killed Slim!" cried Whitey.
"Mebbe," Injun agreed.
Sitting Bull had silently followed the boys, and while they were investigating with their eyes, he was doing the same with his nose. His search had led him to a bunk, and with his fore paws on its edge, he was gazing into it, his head on one side and a very puzzled expression on his face. Bull rarely barked, except to express great joy, and he never was afraid. His nose had told him what was in that bunk; the curious movements of the object were what puzzled him. Attracted by the dog's interest, Injun and Whitey went to him.
The bedding in the bunk heaved and rolled from side to side. Whitey reached over rather fearfully and pulled down the upper blankets, and Slim was brought to view. Not only was Slim bound and gagged, but a coat was tied around his head, to keep him from hearing. In fact, about the only thing to show that the man was Slim was his black hands.
Injun and Whitey hastily removed the head covering and the gag, and Whitey eagerly asked what had happened. Slim was half choked and very indignant.
"I dunno what happened to nobody, 'ceptin' to me," he gurgled. "Gimme a drink o' watah. I'se burnin' up."
While Whitey held a cup of water to Slim's lips, Injun struggled with his bonds, and with great difficulty succeeded in releasing him. Whitey asked a hundred questions meanwhile, none of which Slim answered. He seemed entirely absorbed in his own troubles, and when he was free, he carefully felt himself all over.
"Dis is fine foh mah misery, fine!" he said bitterly.
As far as Whitey had ever been able to learn, a "misery" was a sort of rheumatism.
"How is your misery?" he asked, despairing of getting him to talk about anything but himself.
"Tehibul, tehibul," groaned Slim; "an' dey tie me wid a rawhide rope, too, dat jest eat into mah flesh." And Slim looked venomously down at the lariat that lay at his feet.
"Who tied you?" Whitey inquired.
"I dunno. Wen I wakes up dis yeah rag is bein' jammed into mah mouf, an' dis yeah coat bein' wrapped round mah haid, an' dat dere rope bein' twisted round mah body, till it cuts mah ahms an' legs somethin' scand'lus. I dunno who dey wuz, but dey suttinly wuz thorough," Slim admitted.
"Then you didn't hear anything?" Whitey demanded.
"Heah? I couldn't 'a' heard a elephant cough," Slim declared.
"Well, Whiff and String Beans and Ham just rode away," said Whitey.
"Dey did?" said Slim. Then an awful thought came to him, and he jumped to his feet. "Wheah's mah watch?" he cried. He hastily fumbled under the bedclothes, and brought to light an enormous, old-fashioned silver watch. Then he heaved a sigh of relief. "An' dat Ham gone, too! Now, how'm I goin' t' cook, wid dat misery wuss'n evah?"
It was very plain to Whitey that all Slim could think about the affair was the way it concerned him personally. Also, there was no doubt in the boy's mind that the absent men were bent on mischief. Bill and the other cowboys were surely making a night of it at the Junction, in celebration of the gold shipment. Whatever was to be done in the matter Whitey and Injun would have to do. By this time Slim was busily rubbing some horse liniment on his arms and legs.
"Injun and I will see what's to be done. You might as well go to sleep," Whitey said to him.
"Sleep! Ah couldn't sleep in Mistah Vanderbilt's bed."
"Well, stay awake, then," said Whitey, as he left the bunk house, followed by Injun.
In spite of Injun's belief that the men had not been in the ranch house, the boys took a look around, but nothing had been disturbed. Then, as they dressed, they talked things over. Whitey was not sorry that Bill Jordan was away. While not one to think ill of people, Whitey always had believed that String and Ham were queer, and the affairs of the night seemed to point to the truth of this. If Whitey could learn what sort of mischief the men were up to, it would be a feather in his cap, and it would give him great satisfaction to say "I told you so" to Bill, who always was so sure of himself. And if he and Injun could prevent the others from committing that same mischief, the boys would be something like heroes.
As Whitey and Injun talked the matter over, Whitey reviewed what took place the night he overheard the whispered conversation in the bunk house.
"They talked about the mine," he said to Injun, "and about meeting on a certain date. What day of the month is it?" he asked.
By a miracle Injun happened to know the date, for John Big Moose had told him the day in September on which the ore was to be shipped, so Injun answered briefly, "Him thirty."
"That was the date!" cried Whitey. "They said the thirtieth of September." Other scraps of the men's whispered talk began to come to Whitey's mind, and to have meaning. "They were to meet on that date, and they did. That's what String Beans was loafing around here for, pretending to be lame. And they rode south. Don't you see?"
"Don't see nothin'," Injun answered.
"Why," Whitey declared, jumping to his feet, "they've gone toward the railroad; toward the water tank, where all the trains stop. I believe they're going to hold up the gold shipment. Come on, Injun, let's get busy."
The moon was well down toward the western edge of the prairie when the boys rode away from the bunk house. They rode toward the south, in pursuit of the bandits, as they now called Whiff, String, and Ham. Whitey and Injun had settled on this course shortly after Whitey had decided that the men were intent on train robbery. There were several reasons for their choice.
For one thing, it was too late to go and warn Bill and the other punchers at the Junction. And even if it were not, if they did that they would have to share with the ranch men the glory of the pursuit and possible capture of the bandits. It may have been rash of the boys, but after their former adventures they felt capable of taking care of three bandits by themselves—especially if they came on them unawares, which they intended to do. Had Bill been there, it isn't likely that he would have approved of their act, but with him away the boys could find plenty of reasons for doing what they wanted to do.
Slim, the cook, had taken no interest in the affair. He was wrapped up in attending to his misery, and the boys left him in a bunk, soaked with liniment—which by rights was intended for a horse—and trying to sleep and forget his troubles.
As the horses galloped over the rolling plains into the darkness of the south, the boys were thrilled by a glow of excitement. Each had his rifle hanging in a gun-boat from his saddle. The mystery of the night; the fresh, keen stirring of the September air; the spirit of adventure; the easy, swinging motion of the horses—all these made the night's hours worth living for.
For a while, by the moon's light, Injun had easily been able to follow the tracks of the horses of the three men, and as they continued toward the south, Whitey felt sure that he had guessed correctly, so the horses were urged to a swifter pace. Little urging was necessary, however, as Whitey's "Monty" pony and Injun's pinto were fresh and seemed as eager for the chase as their masters.
Whitey's plan for thwarting the bandits was simple. Before reaching the Junction, the boys were to branch off toward the east and intercept the train. They could stand on the track and swing a lantern, which Injun carried for the purpose. When the train came to a standstill, they could get aboard, and warn the train crew. It would be easy to recruit an armed force from among the passengers, for in those days, in the West, there were few men who went unarmed. And when the bandits attempted their hold-up, they would meet with a warm reception.
The train left the Junction at six, and should reach the water tank about three-quarters of an hour later, though it often was late. As the boys had started from the ranch house at two, Whitey figured that they would have time enough, though none to waste.
The hours could not be counted, but perhaps three had passed, and through the scented, velvety darkness there came a touch of gray in the east, which changed to pink, then to opal, as the coming sun tinged the low-lying clouds. The animal and bird life began to stir, preparing to greet the beauty of the dawn, or rather, to start on their affairs of the day, for it is likely that the denizens of the prairie had as little thought for the glory of the sunrise as had Injun and Whitey, whose minds were firmly fixed on train robbers.
When the light was full, the boys drew up, and looked off toward the southwest. Whitey had been depending on Injun's never-failing sense of direction to carry them aright. This ability to point toward any point of the compass, in the dark, was one of Injun's gifts—though he didn't know what a compass was. And sure enough, away off there against the gray of the clouds was a line of high, tiny crosses, telegraph poles, near which stretched the tracks of the road.
When he saw them, Whitey could not resist a whoop of joy. "If we ride straight for them, how far do you think we'll be from the water tank?" he asked.
"Mebbe one mile, mebbe two," replied Injun, who seldom committed himself to an exact answer.
"That's all right, come on!" cried Whitey, and they galloped straight for the railroad.
When they reached the tracks, they dismounted and tied their ponies to neighboring telegraph poles, fearing the effect the noise of the train would have on the spirited animals. Then the boys went to the roadbed to await the coming of the train. The line stretched straight toward the west, until the rails seemed to join in the distance. But toward the east was a curve as the road approached a gully, at the bottom of which was a creek. It was from this creek that the water was drawn for the tank.
The sunrise had seemed to promise a fair day, but the promise failed, for a mist was forming over the plains. The train was not in sight, and Whitey kneeled, and placed an ear to the track, knowing that he could detect the vibration caused by the train before it appeared.
He rose and nodded his head. "I hear it," he said. For once Whitey had it on Injun. He knew about railroads and Injun didn't.
"Light the lantern," said Whitey. Then he began to laugh.
Injun gazed at the lantern, then at Whitey. He could see no cause for laughter.
"I was wise when I suggested that lantern," said Whitey. "I never thought that it would be daylight, and its light wouldn't show."
Injun almost smiled.
"What we ought to have is a red flag," Whitey continued. "That's the proper thing to signal a train with in daytime."
Injun grunted, and Whitey considered the matter. "I have it! Your shirt!" he cried. "It's pink, close enough to red. We'll wave that."
Injun grunted again and looked doubtful. "Me get 'im back?" he asked. Injun didn't care any less for that shirt than he did for his pinto or his rifle—and he cared more for it than for his interest in the gold mine.
"Sure, you'll get it back," said Whitey, and without a word Injun took off the shirt and handed it to Whitey.
The boys gazed anxiously toward the west. Whitey thought of the three armed men, who now probably had handkerchiefs tied over their faces, and were lying in wait in the gully. Then of the oncoming train, with its unsuspecting passengers, and in the express car the bags of ore that were said to assay forty thousand dollars a ton. It wouldn't take much of that to make it worth while for the bandits to hold up the shipment.
Although the mist was getting thicker, it seemed singular that the train did not appear. The inaction of waiting was beginning to get on Whitey's nerves—and would have affected Injun's if he'd had any. At that, they had not been waiting very long, though they did not know it.
"It must be getting near. I'll listen again," said Whitey.
Whitey again placed his ear to the track, then looked up blankly. "It's stopped," he said, "Mebbe there's been an accident."
Injun knew a good deal about plains and woods, and animals and birds, but was rather in awe of trains. He gazed at Whitey's face, which wore the same blank look as his own, and ventured no opinion. Two sharp, faint sounds came from the east—something between the crack of whips and the popping of corks. They were followed by three more.
Injun knew about these. "Him shoot," he said.
The startled expression on Whitey's face gradually gave way to one of understanding and disgust. "They came from the water tank," he said. "Don't you see? We're late, and what I heard was the train going the other way. Then it stopped, and they're holding it up." And Whitey sat down on one of the rails, thoroughly disgusted.
For a while nothing was said. The disappointment was too great for words. The boys' chance for heroism had melted in the fog, which the mist had now become. Injun slowly put on his shirt. It was nothing but a garment now, no heroic rescue signal.
"I'll bet that clock at the ranch was wrong. It always is. I might have known it," Whitey said dejectedly. The thought of the loss of the gold was forgotten in his disappointment at failure. "I hope no one was hurt—I mean none of the trainmen or passengers," he added. "But I guess not. Those bandits had the drop on them, and they couldn't have put up much of a fight. How do you suppose we heard those shots? We must be at least a mile from the tank.
"Him fog," Injun answered. "Hear plain." And it is true that fog has a way of conveying sound.
An idea brought Whitey to his feet with a leap. "What fools we are to be sitting here!" he cried. "We'll follow those robbers. The people on the train won't do that. They've no horses."
Here, indeed, was a brilliant thought. The boys could track the bandits to their hiding-place, and possibly recover the ore. At least, they could return and report where the men had gone. There was a chance to distinguish themselves yet. In a moment they were mounted and dashing down along the track, toward the water tank.
Presently a shrill whistle was followed by the faint rumbling of the train as it resumed its way. "See?" yelled Whitey. "The train's just starting. We won't be very late, and the men's tracks will be plain. Gee! I hope it doesn't rain."
A few minutes' ride brought the boys to the deserted water tank. They dismounted to pick up the trail of the robbers. Near the tank, where the express car must have stood, were the traces of many feet. There were others leading from the cars in the rear. Noting these, Whitey said: "Mebbe they held up the passengers, too. It's likely that they would."
But, singularly enough, most of these tracks led on toward the high bridge which spanned the gully. The boys followed them curiously, and when they reached the bridge Injun stopped.
"Huh! Go back again, too," he muttered. And sure enough in the maze of footprints many seemed to lead back toward the water tank.
"Why do you s'pose they went to the bridge? Prob'ly to see if it was safe; that the robbers hadn't damaged it," Whitey said.
"Mebbe," said Injun, who was figuring things out in his own way and seldom spoke until he had them figured.
From the scramble of footprints near the tank, Injun picked out those of three pairs that diverged from the mass. Injun traced these back toward the gully. Two of the tracks were made by ordinary boots, the other by high-heeled cowboy boots. Whitey left this part of the chase entirely to Injun, and followed, leading the ponies.
Presently Monty gave voice to a shrill neigh, and to Whitey's surprise it was answered from the gully. "Look out!" Whitey called softly to Injun. "They haven't gone. There's one of their horses."
But to Whitey's further surprise Injun paid no heed, but kept calmly on his way, and there was nothing for Whitey to do but to follow. The gully, or little canyon, was about fifty feet deep, and the creek that ran through it about that many feet wide. At the lowest part, near the stream, Injun paused.
"Where are their horses?" Whitey whispered.
"No tied here," Injun answered, which was plainer to see than his reason for knowing that they were not.
Whitey was now greatly puzzled and, he had to confess to himself, not a little alarmed. But as the next impatient question was on his lips he stopped short. A cool breeze had sprung up, and was wafting aside the cloud-like fog. A rift in the fog disclosed a portion of the trestle bridge. And, hanging from it, with noosed lariats around their necks, were three limp, ghastly figures.
In horror, Whitey clutched Injun's arm, and gasped, "The bandits!"
Injun looked stolidly at the horrible sight, as for thousands of years his people had looked on death. "Uh," he said and pointed toward the water tank. "Walk marks go that way. No come back."
About noon that day two sad boys rode into the Bar O Ranch, leading three tired-looking broncos, who had been put through some severe paces since early morning. One of the boys and all the horses were hungry, but the other boy had little desire for food. Whitey had been up against some rough adventures in the West. This was his first taste of the tragedy that was frequent, and often necessary in regulating the affairs of those days.
And while Whitey was far from being a coward, as you know, the sight he had witnessed had left him a bit shaken. He and Injun unsaddled the ponies and horses, put them in the corral, and made their way to the ranch house. Bill Jordan and John Big Moose were in the living-room. Bill was getting the big Indian to help him with his accounts, which always were a puzzle to him. And this morning, after his night of merriment at the Junction, Bill was less inclined toward figures than usual.
"Well, well," said John Big Moose, as the boys entered the room. "You two seem to have extended your holiday to the next morning."
"You look kinda shaky, Whitey," said Bill "You been makin' a night of it, too?"
Without further questioning Whitey sat down and told the story of the adventure, from the boys' awakening to their finding the bodies of the three men hanging from the railroad bridge.
"So you were right about String an' Ham's bein' crooks," Bill said, when the boy had finished.
"Yes, but even so, it seems terrible for them to die that way," Whitey replied.
"The express folks is tired o' havin' their cars robbed, an' if you'd known what I found out at the Junction, you might o' saved yourself some trouble," said Bill. "They was a shipment of a hundred thousand dollars in gold in that there car, an' they was six fellers went along to pertect it. Not detectives, or nothin', just fellers that was hired, an' was dyin' for excitement. I reck'n some o' the passengers was as tired o' bein' held up as those fellers was pinin' for excitement, an' when String an' Ham an' Whiff made their poor little play, they musta thought they'd struck a hornet's nest."
"But to hang them," Whitey protested. "Why didn't they shoot them, if they had to kill them?"
"Well, ye see hangin' makes it look worse for the next fellers what thinks o' holdin' up a train," said Bill. "They'd stole three o' our hosses, anyway, an' that's a hangin' offense."
But Whitey was not inclined to argue about the justice or injustice of the lynching. He went away with Injun, and tried to eat. And he tried, too, to forget the horror of the scene at the bridge. But all his life long he never quite succeeded in doing that.
* * * * *
And that night, in the bunk house, the talk was all about the tragedy of the morning. Bill Jordan and four of the cowboys were there, to say nothing of Slim, the cook. Slim had another grievance, for, now that Ham had gone, he was again forced to cook for the men, misery or no misery.
Whitey loved to sit in the long, half-lighted room, and listen to the talk and yarns of the cowboys, for, "boys" they were called, whether they were eighteen or fifty, and in many ways boys they seemed to have remained.
They had threshed over the lynching. Whitey had answered a thousand questions about his experiences, had been praised and blamed with equal frankness, and now he was glad to see that the subject was to be dropped. For it had reminded Buck Higgins of lariats and their merits, especially for hanging men.
"For all-round use give me a braided linen," said Buck.
He was speaking of a rope that is made as its name suggests, and is very strong. If you have ever been in the West, you probably have seen a mounted cowboy carrying one of these thin but strong ropes coiled at the horn of his saddle, or dragging on the ground behind him to take the kinks out of it.
"Rawhide's purty good," suggested Shorty Palmer.
"Yes, but braided linen for me," Buck declared. "It's got any other kind o' rope beat a mile for strength."
"Ever get stretched with one?" Jim Walker asked, with interest.
"Nope," Buck replied, "but I seen other fellers that did."
"G'wan, spill your yarn about it," said Shorty. "We don't care whether it's true or not."
Buck was inclined to be offended. "Say, you all never heard me tell nothin' but th' truth," he snorted.
"Sure, we didn't," said Jim. "Leastways, your yarns is told about places so far away that we has t' take 'em as true, not knowin' any one to call on for t' verify 'em."
"Well, if they're made up, you c'n make up just as good ones yourselves," said Buck, and he lapsed into silence.
"Your tale interests me strangely," said Bill. "Get to it. You started fine."
"He didn't start at all," Jim said.
"That's what Bill means," explained Shorty.
"Aw, let him tell th' story," said Charlie Bassett. "You fellers that ain't liars yourselves is all jealous."
Whitey would have thought that the tale was to go untold had he not known that every story of Buck's met with this sort of reception, and that nothing short of an earthquake could keep him from talking.
"Well, just to show you fellers you can't queer me, I will tell about this here lynchin'," Buck declared, after a pause.
"'Twas back in Wyomin', 'bout five years ago," Buck began, "an' I was workin' for the Lazy I. An' rustlers was good an' plenty. An' every one knows that there ain't on easier brand to cover up than a lazy I. It was got up by old man Innes, what owned th' ranch, an' lived in Boston, an' was so honest an' unsuspectin' that he'd 'a' trusted Slim, here, with a lead nickel."
Fortunately Slim was asleep, and did not hear this reflection on his character, so Buck continued:
"Well, our stock had been disappearin' in bunches, an' purty soon them bunches begins t' seem more like herds, an' somethin' had t' be did, an' Squeak Gordon, th' manager, wa'n't no man for th' job."
"Squeak!" interrupted Jim. "That's a fine name for a white man."
"'Count of his voice," Buck explained briefly, and went on. "So it was up t' Lem Fisher, th' foreman, an' him an' 'bout seven punchers, includin' me, got th' job. 'Course, we had some idea of where them steers was goin', an' what brands was goin' over ours, but we was wantin' somethin' pos'tive before we c'd get busy.
"I started talkin' 'bout braided linen ropes, not 'bout cattle thieves, so they's no use tellin' you of all th' figurin', an' trailin', an' hard ridin' we did. You know old Mr. Shakespeare sez that levity's th' soul o' wit."
"Brevity," corrected Whitey.
"What's the difference?" demanded Shorty. "Buck don't know what either o' them words means."
"Neither do you," retorted Buck.
"Anyway, they ain't got nothin' t' do with braided linen ropes. G'wan," commanded Bill.
"Well," resumed Buck, "one noon, in th' foothills, we come on what we was after, an' we did some stalkin' t' do it. We ketched three guys red-handed. They was artistic-like re-brandin' some of our calves so's Lazy I'd read Circle W. 'Course, they wa'n't but one thing t' do with them fellers, an' we perceeds to do it. But unfortunate enough they wa'n't a tree within miles of that there spot. It'd seem as though nature hadn't figured on no rus'lers conductin' bizness there, an' gettin' caught.
"We felt purty bad about that, an' knowin' those fellers as we did made us feel worse. They sure didn't deserve shootin'. Then Lem Fisher, who always was handy with his memory, happens t' think of a canyon 'bout three mile away, with a bridge over it. Sort o' like that place at the water tank, where them boys was strung up this mornin', only deeper, an' th' stream under it swifter an' rockier.
"Well, we conducts our three friends to this here canyon. They draw lots t' see who goes first, an' a feller named Red Mike wins—- or loses, rather—as he gets number one. The noose of one of these common manilas is attached to Mike's neck, th' other end is fastened to th' bridge, an' he's dropped over.
"An' would you b'lieve it? When Mike comes to the end of that there rope with a jerk, th' rope breaks, an' Mike goes cavortin' down that swift stream, at th' rate of 'bout thirty miles an hour, bumpin' against th' rocks an' everythin'. An' he sure must 'a' disliked that, for he hated water.
"The next feller on th' programmy was called 'Sure Thing' Jones. You c'n imagine why he was called that. He wouldn't even risk bein' honest. Well, Sure Thing watches perceedin's with a good deal of interest, an' he sees Mike disappear 'round a bend of them rapids, his arms an' legs wavin' somewhat wild.
"Then Sure Thing goes up to Lem, an' he sez, 'Lem, have you got a braided linen rope in the outfit?'
"'Sure,' says Lem. 'Why?'
"'It's my turn next, an' I wish you'd use it on me,' says Sure Thing. 'Ye see what happened t' Mike, an' I don't want t' take no chances. You know I can't swim.'"
"Just the same," said Bill Jordan, determined to have the last word, "with all your advertisin' for braided linen ropes, I'll take old maguey for mine, swimmin' or no swimmin'."
In the midst of the laugh which had followed Buck's grim tale, Sitting Bull, who had been lying near Whitey, rose to a sitting posture, his cave-like mouth open wide and raised at the corners, his eyes twinkling.
"See Bull!" Bill Jordan cried delightedly. "He's laughin' at Buck's story yet. He's sure got a sense o' humor, that dog. He's just about human."
Bull's expression raised another laugh. All the men liked him, but Bill was his especial admirer, and loved to dwell on Bull's wonderful intelligence and tell stories about it.
"Me for bed," said Jim Walker. "After that jamboree las' night I feel's though I c'd sleep a month."
"Wait a minute till I tell you 'bout me havin' Bull down t' th' Junction las' week, an' him chasin' th' fox," Bill said.
"Tell nothin'," Jim answered. "Me for th' hay."
"Aw, g'wan," protested Bill. "'Twon't take a minute, an' you got all 'ternity t' sleep in, as the poet says."
"An' I c'n use it," Jim yawned; "but cut loose, an' make it short."
"Well," Bill began, "las' week Thursday I was goin' down t' th' Junction for feed, an' I takes Bull along. You know how he likes t' ride in a wagon? 'S almost human. Why, that there animal—"
"Here, cut out them side comments," commanded Jim. "We know how smart that dog is, without your tellin' us any further. Get down t' bed rock!"
"Well," Bill continued, "when we gets t' th' store, an' Al Strong's nigger's loadin' th' feed in th' wagon, I allows t' take Bull for a little stroll 'round, so's he c'n stretch his legs. So I ties a halter t' his collar an' starts out. I isn't exactly leadin' Bull, he's sort o' leadin' me, for you all know how strong he is. But we sure needs th' halter t' make Bull keep th' peace. He's had more fights at that there Junction! Say, he's the fightenist dog"—a warning look from Jim kept Bill to the thread of his story.
"We passes th' homes of all Bull's live enemies, an' th' graves of his dead ones, an' gets to a rock, where we c'n sit an' study natur' a bit, before we turns back. An' thinkin' it's safe t' do so, I lets go o' Bull's halter. An' while I'm studyin' an' takin' a nip from a flask I happens t' have in my jeans, I forgets Bull for a minit, an' when I looks up, he's plumb absent.
"I ain't worried none, till I happens t' think we was only 'bout a quarter mile from that Englishman, Barclay's, place, what has that pack o' wolf-hounds that he hunts with. Fox-huntin' he calls it, though what he mostly chases is coyotes. Ain't it funny how when an Englishman comes t' this country he brings his habits with him, or twists ours aroun' t' fit his'n?"
"Say," demanded Jim. "Is this a yarn 'bout a bulldog or a lecture on them foreign habits? 'Cause if it's that last, I—"
"Well, anyway," Bill interrupted hastily, "I looks down th' road, an' Bull's beatin' it hot foot for that Barclay's place, an' I c'n see what happens if he meets up with them hounds. So I follers, swift's I can, spillin' some language to Bull—prayers, an' warnin's an' such. But before I gets there, I sees that pack o' hounds swarm over th' fence into th' road, an' purty soon, there is Bull, right in their midst, as th' feller says.
"For th' rest of th' way I does nothin' but pray, an' see visions of th' biggest dog fight that ever hit Montana, but I keeps movin' rapid, an' when I gets on th' spot, there's Bull, right in th' middle of th' pack. Now all th' tails is waggin', an' that looks purty good, till I comes t' think that Bull always wags his tail before he goes into battle, 'cause he loves to fight so. An' all them hounds is sniffin' 'round, right pert, an' Bull is purty cocky, an' when I gets close enough, I hears Bull say:
"'Hello, d'ye want t' fight?'
"'Fight, no,' says one of th' hounds. 'We're goin' to chase a fox. D'ye want t' go?'
"'Sure,' says Bull.
"An' with that th' whole pack o' 'em leaps over a fence, an' beats it off toward th' hills.
"Well, Bull don't even hesitate. He leaps at that there rail fence an' lands against it with his head, plunk—an' caroms back into th' road. He leaps again, an' comes back th' same way, but at th' third jump he goes through a wider place in th' rails, an' lands on th' other side o' the fence, on that there same head. Then he scrambles to his feet, an' starts off after them hounds.
"Now, you all know that a bulldog ain't built for speed, he's built for war. In th' first place, his fore legs is so far apart they's almost strangers, an' his hind legs is too short, an' th' rest of him's too heavy for all of 'em. But Bull keeps goin', industr'ous. An' he goes so fast that 'bout every thirty yards he stumbles, an' falls on his face, an' his head plows up large chunks of Montana soil.
"By this time them wolf-fox-hounds has flown into them hills, they touchin' th' ground 'bout every hunderd feet. An' Bull ain't one to let no hounds see him quit, an' he plows along, till at last he gets t' them hills an' is lost t' sight but t' mem'ry dear. Well, I goes back t' that rock, an' sits down, sad-like, thinkin' mebbe I never will see Bull again.
"An' p'r'aps it's an hour goes by, when I hears somethin' that sounds like a engine puffin' strong on a upgrade, an' up over one of them hummocks comes Bull, draggin' himself along like he has flatirons tied t' his feet. An' he's all decorated with real estate, an' burrs, an' everythin' loose what would stick to him. An' when he gets to where I sits, he flops down flat on his back. He sure is exhausted; even his paws is limp. But one of his eyes seems t' hold a spark o' life, an' he fixes that on me. An' he asks, weak-like:
"'Say, Bill, what in tarnation is a fox?'"
The company looked at Bill fixedly; not reproachfully, but fixedly. Then slowly the men began to take off their clothes, with the idea of turning in. And Bill Jordan and Whitey started for the ranch house, for the same purpose.
The green of the prairie had given way to brown, and the brown to white, which rolled off to the sky-line and the hills in dazzling billows, in the cold light of the sun. For winter had the Bar O in its grip. And though winter was no gentle thing in Montana, there was a tingle in the cold, sharp air that made a boy want to whoop and to get on his snowshoes and go after rabbits, which wise old Nature had also turned white, so that they could blend in with the color of the landscape and the better avoid their enemies. Not that Injun ever whooped; he never did. His people always had reserved that form of expression for warlike purposes.
There were many things the boys could do in winter, but these were forgotten for a time by Whitey, for a great event was about to take place. His father was to return to the ranch from New York, stopping over at St. Paul, on his way, to buy supplies. And as the snow was not too deep for sleighing, Whitey drove down to the Junction, with Bill Jordan, to meet Mr. Sherwood. And outside Whitey was all wrapped up in a buffalo coat, and inside he was so warm with excitement that the coat seemed hardly necessary.
Now, of course, Whitey was awfully glad to see his father, and to hear the news about his mother and sisters, and about Tom Johnson, and George and Bobby Smith, and others of his boy friends. But after he had heard all this there was another thing that naturally came to his mind. Mr. Sherwood would not come back to the ranch without bringing Whitey some sort of present, and his father was singularly silent about what this was. In fact, he had not said anything about it at all. And it was after supper, and Mr. Sherwood was unpacking his trunk, when he rather carelessly said, "Oh, here's something I brought for you," and gave Whitey a parcel.
Whitey thanked his father, and undid the parcel, and he dropped the things that were in it, and his eyes popped out, and for a moment he could hardly breathe, he was so excited, for they were Boots!
And when Whitey recovered a bit he rushed over and actually hugged his father.
Perhaps you would like to know why a pair of boots would cause all this feeling in Whitey. For one thing, it was because he never had owned any. In New York all the boys wore shoes, and when Whitey had come to the ranch he had worn them, too, until the soles of his feet had become hard enough, like Injun's, for him to go barefoot, which he delighted in doing.
But in the late fall, and the spring, when it was colder, he again followed Injun's lead, and wore moccasins. Buckskin moccasins, with little bead decorations. In the cold of winter, when the snow was deep, and when the big thaws came, Whitey wore heavy, moccasin-like muck-lucks, made of buckskin, which laced high, nearly to his knees, and over the tops of which hung the tops of heavy, woolen socks.
These comprised Injun and Whitey's footwear for the seasons. But there was one thing that Whitey envied the cowboys on the ranch their boots. For you must know that there are two things on which a puncher spends his money extravagantly—his boots and his saddle. Unless he happens to be a Mexican—then he spends it on his hat, too.
So the dream of Whitey's life, the pinnacle of his ambition, the idea of the tip-top of ecstatic happiness that lived in his brain was—Boots. And now he had them. And they were beauties; with tops of soft leather with fancy stitching, inlaid with white enameled leather, and high heels, that a fellow could dig into the ground when he was roping a horse. In short, they were regular boots, that any one might be proud of. And they had been made to order for Whitey!
It would be useless to attempt a description of how Whitey felt about those boots. Shakespeare would have to come back to life to do that, and I doubt if he could have done it. I know that Bacon could not. Whitey's first impulse was to put the boots on, and go out and show them to all the men in the bunk house. His next impulse was to save the surprise till morning, when the decorations on the boots would show better.
But he put them on. And after his father had finished unpacking, Whitey sat in the living-room with him, and it is to be feared that he listened rather absent-mindedly to his father's talk. He would stretch out his legs and admire the boots. Then he would twist his feet about so that he could get a good view of the high heels. Then he would double up his knees, and fairly hug the boots. And if Mr. Sherwood noticed all this he gave no sign. Probably he remembered the day he had his first pair of boots. And that night, though Whitey did not sleep in the boots, he took them to bed with him.
In the morning Whitey restrained his impatience until breakfast-time, then strolled down to the bunk house, wearing the boots. Several of the men were there, just finishing the meal, and rolling their after-breakfast cigarettes. Whitey sat down, sort of offhand and careless-like, and to his pained surprise, no one noticed the boots. Then he crossed his legs and leaned back, with his hands clasped behind his head—and Buck Higgins noticed them.
And Whitey certainly was gratified, for they attracted a great deal of admiration and praise, and there was much discussion about them, and feeling of the leather, and estimating how much they cost. After a while Injun arrived. Now, Injun did not care about boots, though he might have liked a pair had they been made of pink leather. But even Injun was moved to admiration by these boots.
Then Whitey strutted around the ranch buildings and corrals for a while, and the milch cows, and the horses and the pigs—all the stock, in fact—had a good look at the boots. And Sitting Bull admired them so much that he wanted to lick them, but of course that wouldn't do.
Bill Jordan had an errand at the Junction and he drove Whitey and Injun over with him. Al Strong's store was also the postoffice, and every man, woman, and child that happened to be there at mail-time had a fine view of Whitey's boots. That night, when Whitey went to bed, he was quite tired from exhibiting them.
The next day Whitey figured that about every human being and animal in the neighborhood had seen his boots. Then he happened to think of the Indians fishing on the river. I say on the river, for it was frozen over, with its first solid covering of ice. Now, the Indians never fish in the summer-time. Few white people know about it, but the Indians don't like to fish. They only eat fish when they can't hunt much. When the Indian goes into camp for the winter, he has his provisions all stacked to carry him through, but to be sure that these provisions will hold out, he will eat just a little fish.
And this is the Indian's mode of fishing. He puts up a tepee right out on the ice, and puts a blanket inside the tepee. Then he cuts a hole in the ice, and lies down on the blanket and industriously watches the hole. You know that fish are very inquisitive, and when Mr. Inquiring Fish comes along to see about that hole, Mr. Indian spears him just back of the head, pulls him out, and has fried fish for supper.
When Whitey beat it down to the river, to show his boots to a new audience, he was followed by Injun and Sitting Bull. Trouble was following, too,—Harrowing Trouble,—but Whitey didn't know it. On the frozen river were about a dozen tepees, standing up something like big stacks of cornstalks on a field of frosted glass. So there probably were about a dozen Indians, lying on their stomachs, watching as many holes in the ice.
There was not one of those Indians that Whitey thought should miss seeing those boots. In the first tepee his reception was very gratifying. Little Eagle was the owner's name, and he didn't care much about boots, but the decorations on these pleased his taste for the gaudy, and his eyes sparkled as he grunted his praise.
So it went around the little fishing village, until Whitey entered about the eighth tepee, and that was where Trouble was right next to him. Inside the tent it was dark. And Whitey didn't fall into the hole in the ice—he walked into it. His life was not in danger, because he didn't mind a little cold water, and the Indian lying there on his stomach, with his eyes accustomed to the darkness, could see, and he quickly grabbed Whitey by the shoulders and yanked him out—but, oh! the boots!
They were crinkled and soaked and water-logged and shrunken. And it took six Indians to get them off, two pulling on each boot, and two to hold Whitey. And when they were off, Whitey borrowed a pair of moccasins, and raced to the ranch house, with Injun and Sitting Bull.
Now, in the living-room of the Bar O ranch house in winter—and in every other ranch house in that part of the country—was a big stove that held a stick of cordwood three feet long. In fact, it held four or five such sticks of cordwood, which, you can imagine, made a good fire. And straight to this fire went Whitey. He was wet, and he was ashamed. And he put the boots under the stove to dry, without anybody's seeing him. And he didn't say anything to his father about it, because he was ashamed. And he went to bed without saying anything about it.
In the morning Whitey was up with the sun, and went to get his boots. And, oh, ye gods! Why didn't the heavens fall? What once was a pair of proud boots, looked like two little, brown wrinkled apples! It was a tragedy in six acts. It was worse than that, for one can find words for a tragedy. But why dwell on it?
And while Whitey was getting the worst of the first, horrible shock, his father came into the living-room, and not knowing why, Whitey ran, and his father, not knowing why, I suspect, ran after him. Whitey was fleet of foot, and much smaller than his father, so he could make the stairs better. And he ran up and down and around, now slamming this door, and now slamming that one.
And Whitey's father began to get angry. But Whitey had become a frontier boy, and accustomed to standing his ground in the face of a superior enemy—at least, when he couldn't run any farther. When he was finally run down, he backed into a corner, lifted his fists to the proper angle, and, in this boyish fighting attitude, said to his big, strong, wonderful dad, "Don't you hit me!"
If it hadn't been for his father's strong sense of humor, Whitey probably would have been in for a sound trimming. As it was, his father paused and looked at him sternly; then his piercing blue eyes began to soften, and signs of his sense of humor began to appear about his mouth. And he turned on his heel, and walked away, leaving Whitey to his grief.
EDUCATION AND OTHER THINGS
Winter dragged coldly by, saddened by the lessons of John Big Moose, and brightened by an occasional hunting trip the boys took to the mountains. Sitting Bull did not seem to justify Whitey's first idea of him; that he was a magnet for excitement. Apparently Bull was satisfied to lie by the big living-room stove and sleep, except when the boys were going for game. Then he was eager to go.
"That there dog is like some folks," declared Bill Jordan. "He's powerful smart, but he's got a lot o' false idees 'bout himself. He ain't built for huntin' no more'n he is for runnin'. Why don't you take him along onc't, an' show him his mistake?"
So one day when the snow was light, and snowshoes were not needed, Injun and Whitey took Bull to the hills with them, and he was mad with delight. But all he did was to rush excitedly about and frighten the game, except once, when Whitey had a good but hard shot at a rabbit. Then Bull got between Whitey's legs and tripped him up, so that Whitey missed the shot.
The boys came back without any game, and apparently without convincing Bull that he was no hunter, for the next time they started he was just as eager to go as before.
"You thought he'd be cured of wanting to hunt, but he isn't," Whitey said reproachfully to Bill Jordan. "I don't think he's so smart, after all."
"Smart!" exclaimed Bill. "Why, he's just nachally too clever t' give up. He'd keep on tryin' till he did b'come a great hunter."
This was the usual satisfaction Whitey got out of Bill's arguments, but Bull went hunting no more.
One of the boys' other diversions had to do with a Chinaman named Wong Lee. Wong had succeeded the colored man, Slim, as cook at the Bar O. Slim had thought the Montana winter too severe for his miseries, and had gone South for good, and as Wong was a much better cook, no one felt sorry. Wong was placid, industrious, and very amiable, but beneath all this he must have had nerves, as I suppose Chinamen have, in common with other people.
He slept in a shack near the bunk house, and carried his industry so far that at night he would do all the washing that was to be done at the ranch house, for which he was paid extra. And here was the boys' chance. Injun was like most other boys when it came to mischief, and Whitey taught him the ancient game of tick-tack. In case you don't know it, I'll tell you how it's done.
To make a tick-tack get a long string, the longer the better; meaning the longer the safer. Then get a small fish-hook, and tie it to the end of your string, and tie a little stone about eight inches below your fish-hook. Select a dark night and the window of the person whose nerves you wish to disturb. Then sneak up, and fasten the fish-hook to one of the cross pieces of the window. Then go to the end of your line, and hide behind a wagon or a post. Pull your string, and "tick-tack" goes the stone on the window.
Wong Lee took it all in good part. He had been a boy once, himself, away off in China. And though Wong Lee never had played tick-tack, he probably had played other, Chinese boy games that Injun and Whitey would have been glad to know about, and Wong Lee was of such a disposition that he probably would have told them all about it, had he and the boys come to an understanding in the matter.
Instead of that, when that irritating little sound got on his Chinese nerves, Wong Lee would chase out in answer to the tick-tack, with his pigtail standing straight out in the wind, and pursue the boys from cover to cover. But he was game, and though he must have known who his tormentors were, he never reported them to Mr. Sherwood or to Bill Jordan.
And so, with one thing and another, the winter finally merged into spring, the soft rains melting away the snow, and giving the brown earth its chance to turn to tender green. And the swollen river was dotted with cakes of ice, among which the wild ducks dropped on their way South where, it was to be hoped, Slim had recovered from his miseries. And, as everybody knows, spring is a time that stirs boys and young men to unrest.
Perhaps you have noticed that when a fellow is just swelling up with a desire to do something big in the world, some trifling little thing comes along and knocks his ambition to splinters. When he is burning to kill a bear, he has to go on an errand for his mother—or something like that. Well, here was Whitey, with this spring feeling inciting him to great deeds, instead of making him lazy, as it does some people, and he went to the bunk house, followed by Sitting Bull. And there was Bill Jordan, with a letter in his hand, and something on his mind that he was dying to tell, but would rather die than not take his time about telling.
So Bill proceeded to peddle out his news, a bit at a time. "John Big Moose's goin' t' New York," was the first thing Bill said.
"Hooray!" Whitey cried.
"That's a fine way t' take th' news that you're goin' t' lose your dear teacher," Bill said reproachfully.
"Oh, of course I'm sorry that John is going away, but just think, there'll be no more lessons," Whitey answered.
"O' course," Bill said, and he looked at the boy in a very peculiar way.
But Whitey was too excited to notice the look. "What's John going for?" he asked.
"Your father's sent for him," answered Bill. Mr. Sherwood's business had again taken him to the big city. "An' now that this here gold mine's turnin' out so well," Bill continued, "an' John has some money, your father don't think it's fair t' keep him here teachin' a couple o' kids, when there's a big openin' for John right there in New York. An' it seems your father's got John some job as a chemist, though goin' into a drug store don't seem no big openin' t' me," Bill added thoughtfully.